Nepal is positive about being part of State Partnership Program under Indo-Pacific Strategy, minister tells visiting US officialDefence Minister Pokhrel’s communication comes at a time when Kathmandu has been rejecting any role and engagement in the US-led comprehensive policy.
A government minister has positively responded to the United States’ State Partnership Program under the Indo-Pacific Strategy at a time when Kathmandu has been rejecting any role and engagement in the US-led policy that encompasses cooperation in areas of trade, energy, infrastructure, commerce and connectivity.
During a meeting with visiting US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Ishwar Pokhrel said Nepal was positively considering becoming part of the SPP under the Indo-Pacific Strategy.
In the first week of June, the US Department of Defense released an Indo-Pacific Strategy report that categorically mentioned that the United States seeks to “expand” its defence relationship with Nepal under the State Partnership Program in the Indo-Pacific and that Nepal, along with Sri Lanka, has been “recently added”—in 2019—to the US’ ‘State Partnership Program in the Indo-Pacific’.
“Pokharel and Schriver discussed various aspects of Nepal-US ties and thanked the US government for supporting Nepal in various sectors including capacity building of the Nepal Army in areas like disaster management, peacekeeping operations and joint military exercise,” Mukti Ram Aryal, an under-secretary at the Ministry of Defence who is also Pokhrel’s personal secretary, told the Post.
“Pokharel also communicated that Nepal is positive about joining the State Partnership Program of the Indo-Pacific.”
The Indo-Pacific Strategy has become a hot topic in Kathmandu since December last year after the visit of Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali to Washington, DC, and his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
During the meeting, according to a State Department release, Nepal’s “central role” in a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific was discussed.
But after returning to Nepal, Gyawali, at a press conference on December 24 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, outright rejected the reports about Nepal’s inclusion and support for the Indo-Pacific Strategy.
“Since Nepal is the chair nation of SAARC and a member state of BIMSTEC, the US reckons that Nepal can play a crucial role in the Indo-Pacific region. But the reports about the US including Nepal in its Indo-Pacific strategy are false,” Gyawali told reporters, emphasising that ‘region’ and ‘strategy’ are two different things.
But the US has consistently been urging Nepal through several US officials in Nepal to play a key role in a free and open Indo-Pacific.
During this time too, the visiting US defense official requested Nepal to be positive on Indo-Pacific Strategy while explaining that it is not targeted at any country and that it does not aim to contain anyone.
He also requested Nepal to understand the Indo-Pacific Strategy as part of a larger US policy.
Apart from Pokhrel, Schriver also held meetings with Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and Chief of the Nepal Army Purna Chandra Thapa and discussed a wide range of Nepal-US defense ties and other areas of cooperation.
According to an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gyawali also told Schriver that Nepal is studying to become the part of State Partnership Program.
During his visit to Kathmandu in May, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia David J Ranz told reporters that the Millennium Challenge Corporation, where the US has outlined a $500 million grant to Nepal for infrastructure projects, is very much part of the strategy.
After the US announcement that MCC is the part of Indo-Pacific Strategy, a section of ruling Nepal Communist Party has been saying that Nepal should not be part of Indo-Pacific Strategy that is directed to contain China and the Beijing-led Belt and Road Initiative to which Nepal is a signatory.
The federal parliament has yet to endorse the MCC, a mandatory provision while accepting the largest US grant to Nepal.
On September 8, while addressing a programme in Kathmandu, US Ambassador Randy Berry clarified that agreements with the MCC require parliamentary ratification in every country, not just in Nepal.
Releasing the Indo-Pacific Strategy report in June, the Pentagon stated that in South Asia, the US is working to operationalise major defence partnerships with India, while pursuing emerging partnerships with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh and Nepal under the Indo-Pacific Strategy where the US seeks to expand its defence relationship with Nepal, focusing on “humanitarian assistance and disaster response, peacekeeping operations, defence professionalisation, ground force capacity, and counter-terrorism.”
The State Partnership Program, which originated in 1993, is a joint Department of Defense initiative managed by the National Guard of designated US states and countries that are part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Eighty-six nations are already part of the programme.
The programme primarily focuses on disaster response, aviation safety and operations, leadership development, military medical fields, and cyber defence. Its objectives include meeting US national security goals while maintaining relationships with “some of our [US’] staunchest allies and partners in every corner of the world.”
“Nepal is happy to notice that the US is looking Nepal through its own eyes and thanked the US government for providing support to Nepal Army for its capacity building, imparting various training and support to humanitarian assistance,” a statement issued by the Defence Ministry reads.
“Pokharel also thanked the US government for providing assistance to Nepali peacekeepers and upgradation of the Birendra Peacekeeping Training Centre in Panchkhal,” the statement added.
According to the ministry, Schriver said that the US always respects the sovereignty of all big and small countries and is always positive towards providing assistance to Nepal Army for its capacity building.
According to Nepal Army spokesperson, the US government is providing four sky trucks to Nepal Army manufactured in Poland in grant. “Out of four sky trucks, two are arriving Kathmandu before December 15 and will be handed over to the Nepal Army on December 18,” Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey, spokesperson for the Army, told the Post. “Another sky truck will arrive by 2021. The fourth is more sophisticated and will have an operation theatre.”